Last Updated: Aug 8, 2019
“Adulting 101” is a series of six blogs to help make your transition from college to the real world a little easier! So far we’ve covered job and apartment searches and how to eat well. Now let’s learn about health care and insurance.
You’ve settled into your apartment, you’ve started work, and you’re entirely on your own...but wait, when was the last time you went to the dentist? Today, we’re going to talk about health care as a “new” adult: who you need to see when, keeping yourself well, getting and using health insurance, and how to pay for it all.
(Nothing I say here should be taken as medical advice—it comes entirely from the personal experiences of myself and others, as well as some research. Speak with a medical professional for specific medical advice.)
Related: Health Insurance for Recent Grads
Do I need a doctor?
First, here’s a typical schedule of what doctors to see and when. To keep up your regular health, you typically need to see a dentist twice a year, an optometrist once a year (especially if you wear glasses or contacts), and you can choose to see a general practice doctor or nurse practitioner for an annual physical.
When in doubt, a visit to your general physician can point you to any specialists you may need to see, and your doctor can keep tabs on your health during a fluid period in your life. Many young adults begin having regular appointments for their reproductive health around this age as well. Talking to your regular doctor can give you an idea of what you need to do for this, or they can refer you to another doctor if your insurance requires that.
If you have mental health concerns, it’s always a good time to check in with a mental health professional to take care of your whole body. Depending on your specific needs, lifestyle, and medical history, you may need other appointments as well: health care is not one-size-fits-all.
Be prepared for the minor stuff
If you’re moving out on your own, you likely won’t realize you don’t have any medicine until you get a searing headache. Even on a tight budget, it’s a good idea to keep a simply stocked medicine cabinet in case of emergencies. There’s nothing worse than a trip to Walmart for medicine when you already feel like crap.
Try to keep a few things on hand at all times:
- Pain medicine (Tylenol, Aleve, Motrin—whatever you typically use)
- Allergy medication (if you have allergies)
- Anti-nausea medicine (Pepto-Bismol, Dramamine)
- Cold and cough medicine
- Microwaveable warm compress (a clean sock with rice inside is a cheap solution)
- Antibiotic ointment
Be sure to keep any vitamins or medicines you take regularly stocked as well.
Now the scary part: health insurance. In most cases, you can stay on your parents’ plan until you’re 26, even if you don’t live at home or are married, but there are plenty of circumstances where you may want or need to be off that plan.
Regardless of whether you’re on your own plan or someone else’s insurance, you’ll need a copy of the insurance card and to know what is and isn’t covered by your plan. If you’re on your parents’ plan, they may know what’s covered, or you may have to call the company to find out. Many providers also have websites or apps where you can view your unique coverage and find out which doctors and practices are in the network.
If you’re moving to a new place or getting new insurance, always check with the practice and your insurance to see what’s covered and what you can expect to pay out of pocket. If you’re buying your own insurance, you’ll pay a premium every month that takes care of most covered expenses and often an additional copay when you go to a doctor or get care.
What if it isn’t covered?
If your health insurance doesn’t cover all your costs or you need service that you can’t use your insurance for, there are often sliding-scale options based on your income or financial assistance programs when you need help. Check with your individual doctor’s office when you visit or look up low-cost clinics online.
If you’re still in school, there are often clinics on campus that cater to students’ budgets, and there are places like Planned Parenthood and other local clinics that you can go to for things like your yearly flu shot.
We seldom realize what good luck good health is until we’re sick and have no idea where to turn. But figuring out the basics of where to go and when to see the doctor before it’s dire is a great way to stay on top of your health through all of adulthood.
Next up in Adulting 101: car maintenance. And for more advice on staying healthy, check out our Student Life section.